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With Direct Link, the Future is Now

Filed under: News About ASI

In today’s business world, a positive customer review is as valuable as an ironclad sales contract. Whenever one hits my inbox, I’m tempted to post it on a billboard. The Internet – today’s version of an electronic billboard – will have to do.

Below is my latest favorite, sent to us by Magnet’s Chief Technology Officer Rene Whitcraft, testifying to the value of the direct connection that now exists between ASI’s ESP® and suppliers like The Magnet Group (asi/68507), Color FX Inc. (asi/55520) and Power Sales & Advertising (asi/79083):

“ASI’s new API allows us to bring new products to market and update pricing electronically and instantaneously – as compared to weeks of manual entry and review,” Rene told us. “In addition, the API is comprehensive and robust, which will allow us to take the next integration step – electronically receiving and processing orders received through ESP. By improving the accuracy of the product data found on ESP and shortening the order-to-delivery time through automated order processing, ASI’s API will make buying from The Magnet Group a painless and satisfying experience for our customers.”

In short, APIs (or application programming interfaces) means large suppliers can now be directly linked to ASI’s ESP – the industry’s No. 1 product sourcing tool – allowing suppliers to update time-sensitive product information like SKU level pricing and inventory in a blink.

With direct connect, updates that once took up to 24 hours now occur in under five minutes. And, suppliers with databases directly linked to ESP Updates no longer have to log in to ASI – as soon product updates are made in their system, they are automatically updated in ESP.

This is nothing less than the single most dramatic advancement the promotional products industry has seen in decades. I’m proud to say that our product data platform is moving this industry forward and transforming the way distributors search, find and quote products to their customers.

In today’s get-it-now marketplace, speed and efficiency are as critical as positive reviews.

For distributors, direct connect means more product, shipping and pricing information, when and how they want it, with faster, easier order management, making businesses more efficient and orders placed with more confidence and fewer questions.

For suppliers, it means a seamless, time-saving system that allows for updating the latest product info and pricing in minutes, and in bulk. Just by choosing the type of product they’re entering, ESP automatically defaults to values for easy inputting. Plus, suppliers can work from templates instead of manually entering every detail themselves.

So far, ASI has successfully migrated 3,200 suppliers’ data into ESP Updates, which hosts over 950,000 products and feeds directly into ESP, meaning distributors enjoy direct access to one terabyte of continuously updated product data with over 12 million price points, 2.5 million product images, 450,000 virtual sample-ready images and 29 million product attributes.

If that isn’t billboard-worthy, I don’t know what is.


With You Every Step of the Way

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Imagine inviting a crew of co-workers into your home for two days from dawn to dusk to shoot a commercial for your company. It happened at my house and, as you can imagine, it was an insanely busy scene, with lights, cameras and action everywhere, from the kitchen and living room all the way to the bathroom and bedroom. It was also insanely fun. The end result is a new ASI video, “Every Step of the Way.” Click here to take a look.

The meaning behind the video is simple: Our tools, resources and information are designed for you, the members of the promotional products industry, but our support is really what makes the difference.

Behind world-class products and services, we have more than 400 dedicated people who want to help you reach your potential and exceed your goals. (No, all 400 of them did not come to my house to make the video, but there were times during the shoot when it felt like they did.)

As talented experts in their fields, each and every one of ASI’s employees is here to support you and your business, through ups, downs and really anything that comes your way. We are focused on making you successful.

Your business journey is unique to you. We can’t walk in your shoes, but we can walk with you and help you when you need it. Like the new video says, we’re here, every step of the way.

I hope you like the video. Either way, I’d welcome your feedback, at rwatson@asicentral.com. Who knows – maybe for our next commercial we’ll come to your house.

P.S. You may spot a few familiar faces in our video, including ASI’s Chairman of the Board, Norman Cohn (reading the bedtime story), President and CEO Tim Andrews (offering wine) and our products expert, Joe Haley (providing morning-drive commentary). The “star” – who is meant to represent each of you – is Rick Angeloni, ASI’s design principal in our marketing department.

– Rob Watson, ASI’s senior vice president of marketing and user experience

 

 


Update from ASI’s CTO

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

There are few things more productive than getting together with your peers to brainstorm pressing issues everyone can relate to and learn from, especially when the topics concern new and emerging technology.

That’s why I was so happy to host a CTO Summit in conjunction with ASI’s Chicago show in mid-July. All told, 14 distributors, partners and suppliers – including SanMar, Brighter Promotions, ASB, Facilis, HALO and Safeguard – spent the day discussing technology, operations and customer service. I was very impressed with the high-level professionals who took the time to attend (our group is pictured below).

Just about everyone at the summit shares a keen interest in moving this industry forward, especially when it comes to automating and connecting suppliers and distributors for order processing. At ASI, we know how important it is to everyone in our industry to have the latest, greatest real-time product information available at their fingertips.

For the past two years, we’ve devoted countless hours working directly with the industry’s top suppliers to link their databases directly to ESP. By making quick, vital data sharing and communication available across the entire industry, the end-to-end workflow – from product inputting to price quoting to order processing – will be as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.

The summit’s agenda (outlined below) covered a wide range of topics. Hopefully we provided something for everyone. If you need more info on anything, don’t hesitate to email me at arafat@asicentral.com:

  • ASI’s State of the Industry
  • ASI Case Study: Benefits and Challenges of the Modern Platform Architecture
  • Right Brain/Left Brain: Keeping Creativity Alive Within User Experience
  • Technology Challenges from the Perspective of the Distributor
  • Big Data: How to Tame It and Harness Its Power for Profit
  • The Perilous and the Profitable: What You Should Know About Outsourcing

A personal highlight for me was hearing from ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, one of the chief architects responsible for introducing more advanced technology to our industry, starting with the remarkable ESP database – now over 950,000 products strong, and counting. It’s always fascinating to recall just how fast and far we’ve come since the days of CDs, microfiche and rolodexes – and to imagine the possibilities ahead.

This was our third CTO Summit and I’m sure it’ll continue as an annual event, so if you missed it this year, stay tuned for info on 2016. The goal is to establish a solid list of technologists we can rely on for input and feedback regarding the myriad of opportunities and challenges facing our ever-changing industry.

To that end, I’d like to especially thank the experts from Macrosoft for sharing their expertise with the group.

If you have any questions regarding any topic we covered – or suggestions for future topics or speakers –please let me know. I’m grateful to everyone who attended and hope to see all of you next year as well.

ASI CTO Armughan Rafat


Triumphs, Tears and Tips in Chicago

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

ASI ended its last major show of the 2015 season with fireworks and fanfare in Chicago, with attendance up nearly 3% over 2014, tons of fun at our new networking clubs and a fast-paced keynote by Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning.

We accomplished so much in Chicago it’s hard to re-cap. In the middle of it all, we celebrated winners like The Magnet Group CEO Bill Korowitz (at right) as Person of the Year and Senator’s Michael Nick as International Person of the Year during the glittering black-tie 2015 Counselor Awards, which featured spectacular fireworks.

Click here for video interviews with the winners, here for videos shown during the event and here for an album of gorgeous photos (right-click to save any pic you wish).

Although I loved all the speeches (hands down, Bill’s was the funniest and, as he warned us, also the longest), I was really touched by Fran Ford, president of Castelli North America, who presented one of the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Awards to ASI’s own Ron Ball (below).

“For the past 30+ years, this man has been there for so many of us, helping us grow our businesses, but somehow the light never shined his way,” Fran said. “We grew and somewhere behind it all, he stood, never wanting to shine his star! I am so honored to introduce my dear friend… one who has always been there for me and so many others.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Ron went on to thank Fran, the Norman Cohn family and even me. “Thank you for all the support and confidence in me throughout my years of service to ASI and this industry,” Ron said. “This is a great way to end the wonderful career I’ve had at ASI for over 40 years.”

Thank you, Ron.

For more on the awards and for our editorial coverage, visit www.asicentral.com. And, click here to read a positive story on the show in the Chicago Tribune (circulation 455,000), featuring ASI’s Joe Haley and a number of industry products.

A few more words about Manning: He flew to our show, incredibly, just hours after being honored in Los Angeles with another ESPY Award for Best Record-breaking Performance of the past year.

It was a real thrill to meet him, and not just because I’m a Hoosier who remembers when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 after 31 seasons in Maryland (the secret, 600-mile dead-of-night trek is among the most famous sporting moves ever). After struggling for years, the Colts enjoyed their greatest success to date under Manning, the team’s starting quarterback from 1998 to 2011.

So, yes, as an Indiana native, I’m a fan.

Luckily, Manning was a nice guy to boot – unpretentious and way funnier (and taller!) than I expected, going so far as to crack a joke in his best New Orleans drawl about buying a bunch of Papa John franchises just before his home state legalized marijuana: “As a guy who sells pizza in Colorado, I can tell you the business is really good there right now.”

Anyone who might have wondered what a football player could tell a business audience didn’t have to wonder for long. The tips and insight Manning shared during his 30-minute presentation and follow-up Q&A with me (below) were relevant to anyone, whether you own a promo products business or earn millions tossing footballs:

  • “Your personal, professional journey rarely follows a straight line.”
  • “Don’t be stymied by change, be stimulated by it.”
  • “Be a master observer and look for things that aren’t evident to your competitors.”
  • “Invest in a coach that can help you continue to grow…When you stop wanting to be mentored, I think you’re in big trouble.”
  • “The truth is, many NFL football players retire not because of injuries, but because of monotony.”

Traditionally, Chicago is the biggest ad specialty show of the summer – and ASI’s very last big show of the season – neither of which will change. ASI remains committed to putting on a great big show in the city of big shoulders in 2016.

We are, however, introducing major improvements for California and New York with our new Engage hybrid format. Engage combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. We’re very excited about its debut.

Don’t forget: Registration for ASI’s 2016 ASI shows (Orlando, January 4-6; Dallas, February 9-11; and Chicago, July 12-14) and all our high-profile keynote presentations will be available in early August at www.asishow.com.

 


Connect, Learn and Marvel at Power Summit Canada

Filed under: News About ASI

Considering that the U.S. and Canada have the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world, dealing over $2 billion in goods and services every day, it was a no-brainer for ASI to host a Canadian version of our popular Power Summit.

The issues at hand are of particular importance to us all. The Canadian marketplace is growing and the U.S. dollar is gaining strength. Canada is now the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the U.S. and the third largest holder of oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Every trading day, there are millions of jobs and billions of dollars at stake.

Add it all up and it’s clear there’s a lot for business owners on both sides of the border to learn about and profit from.

Luckily, there’s still time to join us at this year’s summit – our third – June 21-23 at the gorgeous Four Seasons resort in Whistler, British Columbia. Picture a quaint European village surrounded by soaring summit glaciers for an idea of the region’s beauty.

We put a lot of effort into selecting a potent mix of speakers and panelists guaranteed to challenge us into new ways of doing business. This year, I’m most excited to hear from Michael Lee, Alibaba.com’s director of global marketing. Alibaba seems to make news every day – from its explosive IPO offering in 2014 to the recent opening of its newest office in Russia.

During our onstage Q&A, Lee will let us in on his global strategies while sharing his thoughts on potential changes to the promotional supply chain. If you’ve got a burning question for me to ask, please post it here as a comment.

There’s more – lots more. Check out the website for details on the venue and a slate of speakers as diverse as Olympic skier John Smart and former British Columbia finance minister Colin Hansen. Topics we’ll tackle over three days include the promos that excite Canucks fans the most, corporate merchandising, Big Data and eco apparel.

The Power Summit Canada is a stylized TED Talks for the promotional products industry – with cold Canadian beer, zip lining and golf to boot, along with exclusive reports, challenging sessions and prime networking opportunities.

For more info or to register, please contact George Murray at (215) 953-3181 or email events@asicentral.com. Click here to register directly.

I’ll see you Up North!

 


Big Fun in the Big Apple

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran is a pip. I just love her, and so did our audience at the ASI Show® New York. Corcoran, ASI’s keynote speaker, shared a ton of unlikely insider business tips, while dishing out fascinating personal tidbits about her life.

She was raised by incredibly loving, supportive parents in a small New Jersey town, in a house with one bathroom and 10 kids. Growing up, Manhattan loomed right across the Hudson River, as foreign and unattainable as Oz. But by the time she was in her 20s, she was taking the town by storm, eventually building a $5 billion real-estate empire. What a story!

She attributed her success, in part, to her imagination. When she was a kid, “I found I could put a ribbon on a rock and that kids would pay you for that rock.”

Although she’s almost 70, you wouldn’t know it from the way she raced around the show floor after the keynote, taking pictures and checking out the products. She stopped by Showdown Displays (asi/87188), our keynote sponsor, and took a photo with the entire team. And when she was told Showdown didn’t sell direct, always choosing to work with a distributor, one savvy distributor stepped right up and handed her his business card, which she tucked into her purse.

As you can see from the photos, she had a lot of fun at our show, goofing around at the hotdog stand and getting her pic taken at the ASI Promocar. As she says, “Fun is good for business.”

Personality and spirit she has in spades, along with incredible talent. No wonder she’s a success story.

To me, the best part of any show is learning similar stories about our members, finding out how they built their business, who mentored and supported them, and how they handle adversity. In her speech, Corcoran said she always watches new hires to see how soon they recover from failure and whether they indulge in pity parties. To her, “failing well” is a sign of strength.

She also applauded everyone in the audience of nearly 300 for being small-business owners. “It’s a fabulous act of the universe to actually be in business for yourself, having nobody tell you what to do,” Corcoran (@barbaracorcoran) said. “Congratulations for having the guts to run your own business.”

I think everyone enjoyed the keynote – and the two-day New York Show, which attracted 175 exhibitors and nearly 1,600 distributors from 32 states and seven countries. I’m happy to report the show also drew 141 female-owned and 120 minority-owned companies, along with 97 businesses based in New York City. And, 11 companies also chose ASI’s show to host their sales meetings.

We got great feedback from the likes of distributor Brian Dawson, of EmbroidMe.com (asi/384000), who said his company loves holding its regional meeting at the New York show. “It’s a valuable way for us to expose our franchises to the promotional products world,” he said. “We speak with our vendors, look at different opportunities, what’s new and what’s awesome in the market. It’s just a great time to meet and learn more about the business.”

In addition to working hard, we played hard in Manhattan, too, staying out way too late at the Counselor® Hot 25 party, held this year at Dream Downtown, with jaw-dropping views of the city. We celebrated 2015’s hottest product design and best ad awards, products and 10 fastest-growing suppliers and distributors.

Kathy Cheng, president and owner of Toronto-based Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), took the top spot on this year’s Hot List. Click here for Counselor’s 2015 list of the industry’s hottest, most innovative game-changers.

And, for complete coverage of the show, including stories on education, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com.

Hard to believe, but the last show of the season – Chicago – is just around the corner, July 14-16, featuring a keynote by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. If you haven’t already, contact Karen DiTomasso, ASI’s VP of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com, about sponsorships or exhibiting.


Congrats to a Winning Team

Filed under: News About ASI

At a time of transition across the publishing spectrum, it’s a vote of real confidence for ASI® magazines to win a record three Jesse H. Neal awards – the B-to-B equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize.

At ASI, we’re proud of consistently producing compelling, exclusive, original content. It’s a commitment we made to our 250,000 print and online readers from the start. Happily, the Neal Award judges concur, honoring Stitches® magazine with two Neals and Wearables® with one. In addition, Stitches, Counselor® and Advantages® magazines were named finalists for seven more Neal awards in a stiff competition that attracts top publications like Architectural Record and Advertising Age.

Like most people, I love winning. It’s great for our team’s confidence and we always enjoy partying together at the ceremony.

But what’s especially gratifying is that the judges recognized ASI’s commitment to a very broad skill set, honoring traditional long-form journalism as well as multi-platform packages with a strong social media component. These days, it’s critical for magazines and websites to interact with their online audience – a skill that comes easily to our writers and editors (especially the ones with a quick wit!).

Stitches senior writer Theresa Hegel, an award-winning journalist from Emmaus, PA, won for overall reporting as well as for her cover story “Can This Shop Be Saved?” Instead of giving readers a typical-but-sufficient story on yet another troubled business, Stitches went way above and beyond and sent Joyce Jagger, aka The Embroidery Coach, to Wisconsin for two days to help an embroidery shop turn itself around. Learning how Jagger whipped this business into shape should appeal to any business looking to improve.

C.J. Mittica, editor of Wearables magazine, took home a plaque in the category of “Best Subject-Related Package” for his story, “The T-shirt That Thinks,” which zeroed in on an industry-specific subject that’s breaking the apparel world wide open. As C.J. wrote: “Smart wearables will radicalize the branding capabilities of apparel. They’ll position information at our instant beckoning. They will literally tell us how we should live. With enough time, the tech will burrow so deeply inside the garments that the category of wearable technology won’t exist anymore. There will only be clothing.”

In less than 10 years, ASI magazines have been honored with over 140 journalism awards and remain the only industry publications to ever win a Neal Award. Our grand total for Neals alone is now nine wins and 17 finalists.

Under Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos and Publisher Rich Fairfield, our magazines have become the ones to beat – something the competitor in me enjoys to the hilt.

In the pic above, from left: Advantages Editor Kathy Huston, Melinda Ligos, C.J. Mittica, Theresa Hegel, Stitches Editor Nicole Rollender, Counselor Editor Andy Cohen and Rich Fairfield.


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